Sunday, December 16, 2012

Praying for Newtown

Today at Mass, instead of a homily, Father led us in praying a decade of the Rosary.  This is in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut on Friday, which has left our nation reeling with shock and grief.  Father talked about how sometimes the rote, memorized prayers can serve us best, giving a place for our hearts to cry out and to rest when there are simply no words.  I read a list of the victims' names today, among them 20 first grade students.  Seeing the names makes this tragedy so much more real and personal.  I can think of no better way to pray than to Jesus through our spiritual Mother on the beads of the Holy Rosary.  In a crisis we turn to our mothers, and I understand a little better now why Jesus shares his own Mother with us.  She understands this deep sorrow most of all.  Blessed be these little ones who have inherited the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed be the heroes who gave their lives to save them.  Bless their families and the broken heart of this country.  Lord we pray, help us heal, help us to understand, help us to trust in your mercy.  Grant us your grace through our Blessed Mother Mary.  Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mother in the Trinity

“I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows.  I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars . . . . I awaken everything to life.”  --the voice of God revealed in the visions of St. Hildegard von Bingen and recorded in her book, Liber Divinorum

Just to explicate a little further on the Motherhood of God in the Trinity, I will use a human analogy.  The feminine principle, which I will call the "Bride", is contained within the Father.  Human marriage symbolizes this divine union, a God who has both a masculine and a feminine nature.  The Son is generated from this union.  The Holy Spirit comes into personhood as the maternal Love proceeding from the Father and Son, as a woman (bride) becomes fully mother only once her child is born.  The Father, then, is also inherently "Mother".  Ruah Ha Kodesh, the Holy Spirit, can be mystically understood as the womb of God.  St. Hildegard of Bingen, recently made Doctor of the Church, saw the universe as an egg contained in the womb of God:

Hildegard, called the Sibyl of the Rhine, saw a vision from God of divine, feminine beings who were named Sapientia, Ecclesia, and Caritas.  These Latin words, respectively, mean Wisdom, Church, and Love.  While orthodox in her Catholicism, God appeared to Hildegard as Mother.  Her trinity of the divine feminine is almost exactly akin to my vision of Sophia at the heart of the Trinity, with the correspondences of Holy Wisdom, Holy Mother Church, and Shekinah (divine presence/glory cloud).  Surely Love is the divine Presence.  Ecclesia revealed herself to Hildegard as "the true, hidden Church".  Again the theme of the hidden quality of the feminine nature of God comes to the fore.  The following poem seems to indicate the feminine trinity within the Trinity.  Note the third wing which "hovers everywhere", a clear reference to the action of Ruah Elohim, the Spirit of God. 

O power of wisdom!
You encompassed the cosmos,
Encircling and embracing all in one living orbit
With your three wings:
One soars on high,
One distills the earth’s essence,
And the third hovers everywhere.
Hildegard von Bingen, O virtus sapientia

In September of 1999, Pope John Paul II told a crowd of pilgrims at St. Peter's Square that God has both a male and female nature and can be referred to as "God the Mother".  A similar declaration had been made by his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, shortly before his death, who said, "God is both mother and father and is more mother than father."  There is a long stream of Catholic tradition which acknowledges the motherly nature of God and the association of Lady Wisdom with the Holy Spirit, understood in feminine terms both by some early Fathers of the Church and in Judaism, before the birth of Christianity.  Yet it seems that this tradition has been intentionally suppressed, and language about God remains terribly lopsided toward the patriarchal.  Let us walk with the sainted abbess Hildegard awhile and see what else our Holy Doctor might reveal... 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the first Marian apparition I ever learned about in detail.  Such a lush, inspiring story, I could not believe I had not heard it before.  I am from a family of stories, on both sides.  My grandfather, especially, has told me his stories, repeated so many times as memory is rekindled by a present conversation, so often that the stories grow to the proportion of tall tales, mythic accounts where he and his family members are always victorious.  No one ever bests them, or wins the argument or the fight.  He and his kin always have the last word.  It is proven that human beings learn best from stories, which become a part of the hearer, interpreted within the context of his or her own life and experiences.  If you really want to make a point with a child, tell her a story.  If you really want to learn as an adult, become like a child.  My grandpa's stories reflect his faith, that we are never beaten in the game of life, that through challenge and hardship we will prevail, and at the end receive our reward.

So it was for me when I heard of the Mexican Indian Juan Diego, a poor peasant who was given his Christianized name by Spanish missionaries, in a place of the conquered and abused.  The Mother of God came to him in 1531at the top of a hill called Tepayac, at the shrine of Tonantzin, a goddess of earth and crops who stood in stark contrast to the Aztec gods of the region who required human sacrifice.  The Indians were saved by Catholicism from this barbarous tradition, but their women were raped by the Spanish, and thousands of the people were murdered.  They were an enslaved race.  The Virgin of Guadalupe brought peace, hope, conversion, and motherly love.  She told Juan Diego, "I am the Ever-Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the Great God of Truth."  She washed the violated clean through the power of her divine Son.  "I am your merciful mother and the mother of all the nations that live on this earth who would love me, who would speak with me, who would search for me, and who would place their confidence in me."

With Mary came an ethereal song of birds and roses in December, and a miracle--her image painted on the cloak of Juan Diego, a sign to the bishop that the peasant's words were true, that he had indeed been visited by the Blessed Mother.  The church she requested to be built on the hill was constructed immediately, and tens of thousands of pilgrims visit what is now a major basilica every year.  In almost 500 years the image has not faded, and the cloak, made of maguey cactus fibers that should have disintegrated within 20 years, is still pristine.  The materials used to create the image cannot be identified, and the picture has survived an accidental spill of acid and a terrorist bomb, not to mention the touch and kisses of many, many believers. Today, December 12, is her Feast Day.  I will make corn bread and quesadillas in honor of her association with the native peoples of Mexico and the abundance of life-giving earth.

The Virgin of Guadalupe bears a striking resemblance to the woman of Revelation 12, standing on the crescent moon, clothed in the rays of the sun, her veil covered with stars in the pattern of the night sky on the day of her visitation.  She is wearing a sash that symbolizes pregnancy.  She is praying and appears to be dancing.  This figure of Mary is cosmological, her clothing depicting Native Mexican royalty, her grace forever abundant and available to the downtrodden and broken-hearted.  In her they are lifted up, promised a new beginning and perpetual renewal.  Our Lady of the Dispossessed.

We have a spiritual Mother in heaven who visits us here on earth.  She loves us, she nurtures us, she brings us the peace of God.  We have only to seek her, and she will come.  I know, for she came to me.  "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" I asked myself, echoing the words of Mary's cousin Elizabeth.  Who, indeed?  I will tell you.  I am a child of God and a child of Mary, just like Jesus, because he is my Savior who made me his sister.  Mary leads us to Jesus, and she offers her motherly intercession free to anyone with an open heart.  She holds us under her starry mantle and shows us the view from the top of the moon.  She allows us to try on her crown that we might look forward to wearing a royal diadem ourselves one day.  From her flows the maternal presence--the Shekinah--of our Creator, and she invites us to dance with her the cosmic dance of holy union, light, and love.